Monday, March 23, 2009

Buried

I dreamed that an old man approached me to praise a blog I'd recently written. He was a retired pastor--which some pastors take as an oxymoron, but not this one--and I was simply impressed he knew what a blog was. Doubly in that he read mine.

His comment related to a specific blog that I've never actually written. In fact, it was a blog I've vowed never to write: one that parrots a sermon I preached the previous Sunday. In fact, the dream-blog-that-I-never-wrote was an alliterated sermon summary. The reason I would never write that blog is because, while I like my sermon enough to preach them, I don't like them enough to place them on public domain and reduce them to a textual summary.

People can read the Bible themselves. People can understand the Bible themselves (especially with the rampantly footnoted and commentated Bibles available at your local bookstore). People can drink of the same Holy Spirit that the pastor does (or doesn't) when he prepares. For these reasons and more, preaching is not the primary context for biblical literacy, but for shared biblical experience.*

(If you're looking for the former, try the library, kitchen table, or couch in the living room. If you want the latter, come and L-G-B-C)

Back to the old man and the dream: He told me he really like that particular sermon-rehash blog because he could actually understand what I was talking about. Apparently, the old man buried in the subconscious of my dreams finds my posts something short of lucid.

Fortunately, the young man of my conscious thinks that teaching can occur (and is best achieved) in the obscure asides. Sometimes hidden in the middle is a core truth.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Going Green

Today I am working from home because Brown is scheduled to deliver a package. With a portion of our tax-return cash, Liz and I decided to stimulate the economy. We put stock in a coffee roaster, which will be accompanied by eight pounds of green, coffee beans.

The Fresh Roast Plus is a machine for novices. It roasts a small batch in a short amount of time. It is easy to store, quiet in its churning, and protected by a warranty. In four minutes the beans will crack. In six minutes the oils will perspire. In eight minutes the process will end. And after 72 hours of setting, the beans will satisfy our caffeine deficit.

Today marks the end of an era. No more vacuum-packed, name brand, ten-dollar-a-pound coffee. We've gone green. When you compare prices, it's the sensible option. At a mere two dollars a pound, the green bean is far more budget friendly. At two dollars a pound, the green bean makes our addiction far more sustainable.

Going green is a solution to the economic crisis, that is, if we're counting beans.



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NOTE: This post is dedicated to St. Patrick, the Democratic Party, and every church jumping on the environmental bandwagon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Conversion

The Shur Zacaron is an empty bookcase, stripped of its shelves, that faces my desk. I converted it to a prayer wall because in the 20 months that I've been pastor of this church, conversions have been wanting.

Attendance has increased. Giving has increased. But conversions are wanting.

Shur Zacaron is a Hebrew transliteration for Wall of Remembrance. I converted the bookcase to a prayer wall to reflect God's work in our church. The books behind me--Tozer, Willard, Swindoll, Lewis, Peterson, Claiborne, Manning, Waltke, Mounce--reflect the work of God outside our church. Conversions happen out there often.

The idea of a prayer wall came out of a sermon. During Christmas, I looked at the prayer life of Zechariah. His prayer was pregnant with OT promises, just like his wife. Zechariah remembered (as his name would indicate) God's promises, so the preaching team and I thought our church should, too. I converted a bookshelf and made a wall. I bestowed a Hebrew name and left out four giant Sharpies for people to record promises.

I told the church contributing a line was a good way to encourage its pastor. While I'm preparing for an upcoming lesson, feeling down about a current crisis, or just plain bored, I can look up and read memories of God's faithfulness. This I often do.

Unfortunately, today as I muse the absence of conversion and paucity of zacaron, one green etching stands out: You will REAP what you sow! (Gal. 6:7).

Since being here, God has used me to convert a bookshelf: I must be sowing illiteracy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 12.5

I have a dilemma, which accounts for my failure to write yesterday. After my initial permission request from Zondervan, I received another email Monday explaining the Permission Guidelines. As long as excerpts did not exceed 10% of my content, and as long as Shane Hipps's book Flickering Pixels (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) was properly attributed, I was cleared to write. As an aspiring author (shameless plug), I didn't want to violate copyright laws.

The follow up email came from a different representative at Zondervan. The details in the second email were modified and more stringent. My citations are limited to 500 words, and I cannot publish my blog in an anthology without prior, written permission. The correspondent also mentioned a licensing fee.

You can imagine my horror and surprise. I'm not sure which email to believe. I would post them both here and ask for some legal interpretation, but the medium and the message came with a confidentiality notice at the bottom.

So here I am, caught between a promise (daily blogs for 17 chapters) and a law (500 words). Sadly, I did the math and counted 577 from Hipps, still with 5 chapters lingering. What is a poor pastor to do?

Do I stop reviewing? Do I edit earlier posts? Do I march forward, using no quotations but obscene paraphrase? Do I procure a contraband stock of Shane Hipps's Flickering Pixels (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) books that I can sell on the black market to pay for license fees and jail bonds?

I guess I'll just suggest you buy the book directly from Zondervan (bulk orders receive a discount!). I don't think they can punish me for that. Perhaps they'll even give me a cubicle in their Marketing Department.

_____________
Integrity Check
Hipps: -77
Total: 400ish
Percentage: -19%

Monday, March 2, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 12

The set up was divine. Within an eight-block stretch of homes located off the central vein into Denver, God placed all twelve people from our 'intentional Jesus community.' I use an innocuous term because we couldn't agree on what we should be called; labels weren't our only point of disagreement.

The twelve of us moved to Denver in 2006 in obedience to God, in pursuit of something relational and apostolic. Some called it 'the group.' Others called it 'our church,' with various modifiers--house, organic, simple. But the terms no longer matter since we're no longer together. The twelve has divided into subsets of threes and twos and ones, spanning no farther than eight-states.

It's been nearly two years since I left what Hipps would call a 'communal experience' (pg. 122). From the early church to the Jesus People USA, to the 1400 block of Denver, CO Christians have celebrated the life of Christ in microcosms. I am a statistic in the opening of Chapter Twelve, "Next Door Enemy." Citing an article from This Magazine entitled "Better Living: Too Many Social Experiments Start with the Best Intentions and End in Disaster" (June: 2003), Hipps notes that 'nearly ninety percent of these communal experiments in North America fail" (pg. 122). I would not call my 'experiment' a failure, nor a disaster--for those are short-sided and corporate words-- but my flight to the Midwest betrays my better judgment.

Without getting into a theology for the house church movement, it is safe to say the model is biblical, and its traction in Eastern countries (e.g. China) still captivate me. Unfortunately, the context of Acts and the culture of Asia are different than the deeply selfish wiring of the West. Hipps offers his criticism: "Our deep individualism is partly to blame for the high failure rate of intentional communities..." (pg. 124).

In studying other cultures (minimally, I admit), I have seen the collective identity prevalent in the East (and biblical times). Our Western independence is entrenched in a rebellious history, early adoption of literacy, industry, factory, and democracy. These are all good things...with unintended consequences.

It is no surprise, then, that violent crimes occur at higher rates, that marriages dissolve more frequently, and that the apex of innovation is in Western countries. We have the lowest cultural sense of shame and highest cultural sense of materialism on the planet. And we cannot be so naive as to think these cultural factors do not sully our church experiences.

When was the last time you saw healthy church discipline?
When was the last time you saw an intensely flawed marriage chose reconciliation over divorce?
When was the last time you saw an offended person leave the church and return later because
  1. someone pursued them (or even noticed they left)
  2. the deserter swallowed his pride and submitted to God's leadership?
I'll hazard an answer: It's been a while.

For some reason, in a profoundly autonomous culture, conflict has become a swear word. We'd rather curse from a distance or exit quietly than take turns sparing in the ring. The word conflict envisions a boxing match where two people take turns punching. Com + flictus = together + to strike. Individualism likes to afflict and inflict, not conflict.

Hipps outlines a 'theology of conflict' (pg. 126) based upon the Mennonite rule of "Agreeing and Disagreeing and Love" (pp. 127-129). "Perhaps the most powerful part of this document is the first point: 'Accept conflict,'" Hipps states at the end (pg. 129).

I agree: reconciliation is impossible when everyone leaves the ring.
_____________
Integrity Check (these words included)
Hipps: 45
Total: 605
Percentage: 7.4%

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 11

There are blog watchdogs. A Grace Brethren pastor cannot say whatever he wants and expect no recourse. I may not receive irate comments on a controversial post, but consequences would follow if I questioned something like the Scriptural validity of Triune immersion baptism. My ordination might be delayed. My church membership might drop.

This reflects two scary things about the Internet: It forgets nothing and publishes everything. There are ways to manipulate these rules, but in general, what is said in virtual world stays in virtual world...and with enough bandwidth can be shipped globally at 128 Kbps.

But what scares me the most is the content people publish.

A friend of mine just told me he keeps tabs on former youth group members via Facebook; he can track their current alcohol and narcotic escapades. My wife was invited to a friend's website flaunting homosexual testimonials. And I once wrote a diatribe on swearing that floats aimlessly on a forgotten blog.

The issue, of course, is not the Internet's lack of filter, but the person managing the website.

In Chapter Eleven of Flickering Pixels, "Our Nomadic Life," Shane Hipps laments the 'exhibitionism' rampant on our lines. "[W]e have the illusion of closeness with someone while remaining totally anonymous" (pg. 113). In effect, we have traded pseudo-intimacy for 'real intimacy' (pg. 114). We become virtual voyeurs, reading virtual walls of virtual friends while literal time falls like sand. Isn't this the reason men look at pornography and women People magazine? Both media give us a false sense of connection with people.

No different is a digital purge, where we spill our guts to faceless listeners, because then we can completely control their response. Click: Ignore. Click: Reply. Click: Block. Click: Accept.

"Digital social networking inoculates people against the desire to be physically present with others in real social networks... Being together is nice but nonessential," Hipps concludes (pg. 115).

(Note: At one point in this chapter, Hipps condemns blogging for its one-sided 'confession booth' nature. If I totally agreed, I would be wasting my time. My intention is not to confess, but to profess. If you contend with my thoughts, give me a call or stop by my house. And staying current on this 'book review' has been anything but convenient, Mr. Hipps.)

The last section was especially relevant. With the rise of digital media, workplaces and churches have moved away from face-to-face inquiry. I'm extremely guilty here: If I need a favor, I make a call. If suspect a 'No,' I send an email. If the person is under 30, I send a text. Ironically, ease works both ways, and the responder has a ready way out.

Thus, both in managing conflict and exhorting people, Hipps suggests using the oldest medium: your voice. So my number is 574-453-3401, or you can find me at 101. West School Street, Leesburg, IN.

I'll be waiting.

________________
Integrity Check (these words included)
Hipps: 39
Total: 492
Percentage: 7.9%